The Department of Veterans Affairs is mandating overtime for claims processors in its regional offices across the country as part of its effort to bring down the backlog that has frustrated hundreds of thousands of veterans and infuriated members of Congress.
The VA called the overtime plan “a surge” that will specifically target high-priority claims of homeless veterans, those with financial hardships, the terminally ill, former prisoners of war, Medal of Honor recipients and vets filing Fully Developed Claims – those with all military medical and personnel records and private medical records.
“This increased overtime initiative will provide more veterans with decisions on their claims and will help us achieve our goal of eliminating the claims backlog,” VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said in the announcement.
Under the directive some 10,000 disability claims processors will work a minimum of 20 hours of overtime each month through the end of the fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30, according to officials. The VA did not say how much the additional hours will cost in all but pointed out that overtime funding is included in the annual operating budget.
Adding overtime to the mix of solutions for ending the backlog is a good thing, according to Garry J. Augustine, national service director for the Disabled American Veterans.
The VA last month announced plans to grant provisional compensation to tens of thousands of veterans whose claims have been languishing in the claims system for more than a year. With that move, raters can make a decision on compensation based on the available evidence in the veteran’s file. With a provisional decision, the veteran then has a year to submit additional information to support a claim before the decision becomes final.
“These tools, in connection with letting [VA employees] do some overtime … is only a good thing,” Augustine said. “From an advocate’s perspective, anything they can do to move these claims is fine with us, as long as they do them right.”
Paul Rieckhoff, chief executive officer and founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, was pleased with the overtime decision and said he hopes it helps reduce the backlog. But Shinseki’s decision, Rieckhoff said in a statement, “clearly shows that there is much more the administration can do.”
“Bringing the backlog down to zero will not be achieved piecemeal … Instead of chipping away around the edges, veterans need a comprehensive strategy,” he said.
Rieckhoff said he sees no sign that the administration will bring together the VA, the Defense Department and other agencies to deal with the structural problems at the root of the backlog. IAVA, along with a dozen other veterans’ organizations and a number of lawmakers, have been pushing the White House to get directly involved in resolving the problem.